“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” was read every night as a bedtime story at our household this past week.
The author, Laura Numeroff, describes how this cute boy offers a cookie to a mouse (in case you haven’t guessed by the name yet, ha!) and how the boy responds to endless requests by the mouse.
A cookie leads to a glass of milk, which leads to something else, all the way back to another cookie.
The book ends with an exhausted boy. Inevitably, I end up with a sleepy 6-year old.
But by the 3rd night of reading this same story, I recognized that often times the same scenario occurs in my life.
I offer a gesture to someone (for the boy it was a cookie to the mouse) and then a follow-up request is made.
And I find myself caught in a cycle of giving and giving.
You get my point.
At every turn, there is someone asking from me and I give out of my energy, time and money.
Stressed, not enough hours in the day and being pulled in 5 directions at once.
Can you relate?
People are looking to you for answers, support, direction and you feel like the Stretch Armstrong from when you were a kid.
From the outside, you love your job, but on the inside you dread the thought of opening emails, answering the phone or even walking in the front door.
People are constantly demanding of you at every turn.
Even when you go home there are demands of your kids, house responsibilities and your spouse.
The needs surround you and there is no getting away.
Inside your head and heart, there is an internal struggle.
The exhaustion of constantly giving is heavy, but the calling to serve, share and minister to those around you is what God is calling you to.
Feelings of resentment creep in and then guilt or shame for not being a “cheerful giver” hits hard.
I know the feeling.
The question of doubting your call or God’s direction starts to grow louder as you wrestle with feelings of failure, shame and overwhelm.
Back to the mouse’s endless requests.
In Luke 5:13-16 Jesus had the same experience.
Jesus healed a man who had leprosy and asked him to tell no one but show himself to the priest. The man (who was likely overwhelmed with joy) went and told many others. This triggered a great crowd of people to gather around Jesus asking to be healed of their infirmities.
Jesus gave out and then was swarmed with people who had needs and asking for healing.
The Bible tells us that there will always be people with needs in this world (Mark 14:7, Math. 26:11).
There will never be an end to people needing something from you. So we need to look to Jesus’ example on how to manage the needs.
When Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people he left them and withdrew to be by himself and prayed (Luke 5:16).
Jesus didn’t stay and meet their needs, he left them standing sick, broken and tired.
Can you imagine that?
Jesus set a boundary of what he was able to do at that time (heal the man with leprosy) and he did no more.
Jesus chose to say yes, to spending time with God and no to the crowds of people needing healing.
This thought should blow your mind.
For most people in the helping professions, it is very difficult to say no to a person in need.
However, Jesus did it.
In specific times Jesus said “No” to people and “Yes” to spending time alone, resting and refueling with time in prayer.
Instead of feeling guilty about saying no to someone, instead, choose what you are going to say yes to.
Because, when you say yes to someone’s needs, you invariably are saying no to something else.
I’m sure you’ve been there.
See if any of these sound familiar.
When you stay late at work to talk to someone in need, you are saying no to time at home with your family.
When you say yes to going to your child’s school sports, you are saying no to the work that you would be doing at that time.
Saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.
So, intentionally choose what you are saying yes to.
After all, setting firm boundaries around meeting other people’s needs is necessary for resilience.
For your resilience.
Forever and ever and ever we will have people needing and wanting and asking from us.
Discerning appropriate boundaries for when we need time to refuel and rest is Godly; demonstrated by Jesus.
Just as there are examples in the bible about Jesus retreating for rest (Mark 6:30-34, Luke 5:15-16, Mark 4:35-40), there are also countless times when Jesus stayed with the people and met their needs.
Follow the guidance of the Lord.
And know that sometimes the Lord will say “stop and rest” and there is no need to feel guilty about that. (Matt. 11:28)
Even though the Lord is telling you to stop and rest, it can still be difficult to say no to people.
Sometimes there can be a backlash when we set boundaries, say yes to other things.
Telling people no with grace is a skill. Click here for a tips sheet of how to say no with grace and without offending others.